Her hands were never the same after losing my father. She’d rubbed them rough wiping tears from her eyes every night. They were calloused from opening too many jars and carrying bags of trash filled with leftovers. She'd never learned to reduce portions after years of cooking for him. The soft brown cracked with age and the unexpected physical repercussions of grief.
A year later and she still had not applied any healing ointment to her hands or heart. The roughness, instead, spread quietly up her arms with every month that passed. It crept up her neck with every long look at his photograph. It hardened her face every time she looked in the mirror and saw the empty space in the doorway that he would never darken again.
I saw love build and break my mother.
I remember the building. His big arms around her soft belly and the beard she hated tickling her neck. “Get away from me Man,” she’d tease. “Cut that thing!”
“But it makes me distinguished!” he’d reply, chest puffed out looking respectable. She’d wave him off and he’d pull her close. His first lady. He’d take her hand and kiss her ring. The queen. She’d twist it to make sure the kiss sank in… her shiny security blanket. Forever had indeed come.
“Cupcake we see you standing there,” he’d jokingly say over his shoulder as I poked my head around the corner.
“I love you,” he’d whisper. “Do you love me?” he’d ask waiting her usual response. “Your love,” she’d pause, “feels like home.”
“Now I’m recovering from the house that fell on me,” she’d yelled tossing the bottle at the wall last night. Rich, deep stains settled into the eggshell wall and the smell filled the room thick and heavy.
Hadn't seen my own apartment in days and tonight would be no different. Too tired from cleaning up messes made by grief, I just put her in bed and went to the spare room, leaving the mess to itself. It would not be the first time a wound was allowed to fester in this house.
So here I sat, hoping the morning tea would calm her.
“How about the park today mom? Get some exercise and fresh air.”
“Tomorrow.” she said flatly. The roughness had found it’s way from her hands into her mouth down her throat. Her musical laughter that once escaped with ease was scratched and bloodied by the time it reached her lips. Her laughter was a memory on a scratchy record.
Tomorrow had been coming for months now and she sat dying quietly before me sipping tea from the cup he gave her on their last anniversary. She was a collector of tacky things and he encouraged the habit with the most atrocious peacock cup I’d ever seen.
The anniversary of losing my father was approaching and she was especially sullen. She twisted her wedding ring the way she always did when she missed him.
“I have to go to work now Mom. I’ll check on you again tonight.”
When I settled into the car the phone rang. I sighed as the familiar name appeared on the screen.
“Hello,” I sighed.
“Cupcake, how are you?”
“Fine Dad. Good thing you called now and not earlier. I was with mom.” I paused.
“How is she, Cupcake?”
“How do you think? You realize what day is coming up right?” my patience running thin with this man I loved. Loyalty to the womb that birthed me was beckoning me to hate him.
“Cupcake,” he breathed heavy. The way men do when they are responsible for broken hearts and feel the need to apologize for being happy. “I never meant to hurt you or your mother. People fall out of love…”
“Stop it. Just stop. Don’t you think I know that? Don’t you think I know that men leave? They have left me enough times for me to understand. I watched you leave our family for that bi…,” I caught myself and regrouped.
“For her. You are my first lesson that brokenness begins at home,” I blurted out through tears.
“You might as well be dead the way she’s carrying on all this time. And you go on like nothing happened? How is this fair? And here I am picking up the pieces. You fell out of love. She shattered.”
“Cupcake. Let’s talk later.” and he hurried off the phone.
Dad was never good at coddling the living, breathing, consequences of his decisions. He calls to see if I’m still mad. He disappears until he feels it's safe to ask again.
By the time I reached my mother that evening she was hands and knees under the couch, frantic, panicked, and crying hysterically.
“Mom what’s wrong?”
“My ring! My ring. It’s gone. I don’t remember. I took it off...I think. I just…” her speech slurred and the scent of whiskey rose to greet me.
In her drunkenness she’d removed the ring and was now in a panic.
Three hours we spent hand and knees, tears and cuss words, searching for the ring. It looked as though we’d been robbed and perhaps maybe we had - living like this - a perpetual state of mourning this man. Nobody tells you what happens to a forever love that goes on living without you.
She eventually cried herself to sleep alone on the couch over a man who was sleeping next to his new happiness. Disgusted, I got up to leave the room and caught a glimmer out the side of my eye near the wall where the liquor stained remained.
How had we missed it? I picked it up and I decided to let her rest until morning before giving it back.
I woke up to find Mom in the kitchen staring at nothing. Holding the place where her ring had been.
“Mom?” I poked my head around the corner as I’d always done as a child.
“The park you mentioned. Let’s go when you’re done with work,” she said facing me, back straighter than I’d seen in awhile.
“Are you okay?” I asked, completely sure she’d lost her mind. You must be careful of calm women with broken hearts.
“Yes, it’s time.” she said. “It’s time to do...anything other than this.”
“I need to get ready for work now but yes, we can go to the park later.” I turned to head into the bathroom. The weight of guilt shifted around in my pocket.
The toilet seat was cool as I sat my brown skin on it’s porcelain. I held the ring tightly in my thinking space.
When I was done, I decided that yes, it was time.
I’m sure she thought nothing of the toilet flushing. I’m sure she never considered her shiny silver security blanket - turned emotional noose - was on it’s way down the drain.
Tonight we will unbury my mother from the house that fell on her. - Dee Rene 2015 Fiction